Blending the hectic pace of Delhi with its magnificent ruins, colonial past and bustling markets with the spiritual serenity of Rishikesh, the trip offers the best of two worlds. Starting at Delhi, it takes you through the fascinating cultural and architectural dichotomies of one of the most ancient of cities, where medieval, colonial and modern all coexisting together. In its second leg, we leave for the yet more primitive landscapes of the Himalayas and through our wanderings in to the numerous ghats and temples of Rishikesh, encounter another India that is perhaps more serene and fresh.
Welcome to Delhi! As you meet our trip leader at the airport and experience your first encounter with this bustling metropolis, you drive in to the luxurious hotel and settle down. After lunch, we drive through the wide boulevards of Delhi, passing through the Rashtrapati Bhawan that houses the President of India and the Indian Parliament, till we reach the solemn gates of the Gandhi Memorial Museum. This historical place was the last abode of the Father of the Nation, besides being the place where he was eventually assassinated. The Museum houses rare photographs, paintings, frescoes and other educative materials on Gandhi, in addition to preserving the personal meagre belongings of this great man whose existence was once described by Einstein as “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth”. .
This is followed by a visit to the iconic India Gate – a 42 meter high Arc –de – Triomphe located in the heart of Luytens’ Delhi and erected in the memory of seventy thousand Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting the First World War.
Evening will see us relaxing in the quaint Dilli Haat, an open air craft and food plaza, showcasing the handicraft and cuisine of different states in India. Run by Delhi Government Tourism Department to promote local craftsmen from different parts of India, Dilli Haat is one rare place where one can explore different aspects and styles of Indian handicrafts and buy some souvenirs at reasonable prices.
Today we explore a yet another aspect of Delhi! Post breakfast we drive to the famous Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. Located at the heart of Delhi, this famous gurudwara was constructed in 1783 and is associated with the eighth Sikh Guru Harkishan. Like most gurudwaras, Bangla Sahib hosts a large sacred pond, a prayer house and a Langar, or the community kitchen, where everybody is fed irrespective of religion and social status. While we submerge in the divine chants and prayers that play in the background, we are mesmerized by this unique display of devotion and community service. We visit the community kitchen to see how meals are prepared for the thousands of devotees that throng to this place every day and for those who want to explore Indian spirituality and religious aspects of life, a small labour service in the community kitchen can be remarkably uplifting.
From this, we move to the lanes and by lanes of Old Delhi, or the real Delhi as claimed by the connoisseurs. Sitting on a pedal rickshaw, we manoeuvre our way through this remarkable ocean of humanity and explore a part of Delhi that usually does not find a place in standard trip itineraries. A visit to Asia’s largest spice market can do wonders to our olfactory senses. As we engage ourselves with the traditional spice traders and understand how this becomes the melting pot of spices from all over the old world, we are slowly drawn in to a period that is frozen in time. An elaborate Indian lunch in a famous restaurant on the busy street and we are set to go for our next destination.
Humayun’s Tomb, our post lunch destination, was built in 1569 by the widowed queen of emperor Humayun of the Mughal dynasty and is said to be the first distinctly Mughal architecture in India. A mix of Persian and Indian style, the mausoleum is a delightful experience, and is also claimed to feature a perfect dome and a precursor of the more famous Taj Mahal.
After spending a wonderful hour here, we drive to our next destination – Qutub Minar. Commissioned in 1199 by Qutubuddin Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, Qutub Minar was built as a victory tower. At 73 meters built in red sandstone and marble, Qutub Minar is a UNSECO heritage site and was the tallest free standing tower in the world for many centuries. The complex hosts quite a few graves and mosques dating back to the early Sultanate period and the famous iron pillar of Emperor Ashoka with edicts written in ancient Bramhi script.
An overnight train takes us to Dehradun – the gateway to the Himalayas!
As the train finally comes to a halt and you step out onto the platform of Dehradun, you sense the weather is distinctly cooler. But we are not here to stay, for we will be shortly driving up to Rishikesh, further into the mountains and our destination for the next two days.
Located at the foothills of the Himalayas and on the banks of sacred Ganga, Rishikesh is today famous as the yoga capital of the world. We cover the 42 kilometres of distance in little less than 2 hours, passing through lush green tarai forests, small hillocks, a variety of vehicle species and an increasingly expanding city suburb. We check into our hotel and relax.
After some rest, we move to the famous ruins of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram. Founder of the transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi started this ashram in Rishikesh, which soon became famous as people from all over the world came here to learn transcendental meditation. In 1968, the Beatles came here and spent several weeks practicing meditation and it is said to have been the most productive days in their lives. The ashram fell in to disuse and was finally abandoned. Today it is ruins and mostly encroached by forest. The impressive stylish buildings, cute spiral formed meditation huts, big halls covered by green and flowers, the graffiti walls and the serene environment makes it a reflective place for a leisure walk.
After lunch and perhaps a lazy siesta with books on Indian Spirituality, we move on to explore other aspects of Rishikesh that is found: its numerous ghats, temples and the iconic Lakshman Jhula. As we walk through a fantasy of ringing bells, chanting of hymns and fragrance of incense burning in the temples, we are transported to an altogether different level of spirituality. Eventually with the setting sun, we land up at the Paramrth Ashram to witness the divine Ganga Aarti, a fire offering ritual for the river goddess performed every evening. As hundreds of oil lamps illuminate the environment in an ethereal light, we are once again reminded of our deep connections with something greater in life.
We end the day with a traditional vegetarian dinner and then retire to our rooms.
Today is a glorious morning and we spend the first hour in learning and practicing Hatha yoga and mindfulness. A form of ancient yoga also practiced by the Buddhist monks, Hatha yoga focuses on simple body postures and breath awareness, getting in touch with the self and reality and accepting what is happening without judgement, leading to a state of mindfulness.
Post breakfast, we take a hike through a beautiful landscape of Himalayan foothills, cutting across lush green forests, picturesque villages and happy people, till we reach the famous Patna waterfall. Located just below the village with the same name, Patna waterfall is a hidden jewel. As our senses are filled with the rhythmic sounds of the waterfall and the fine mist that it creates, we discover the pure bliss of free play in nature. A quick splash, followed by a picnic lunch completes the experience.
A late afternoon arrival to the hotel, freshen up and we are ready to experience yet another dimension of Rishikesh: Ayurvedic massage and rejuvenating spa! A key part of Ayurvedic therapy, Ayurvedic massage draws inspiration and wisdom from ancient Indian traditions. Whether the massage forms part of a more comprehensive Ayurvedic programme or is merely undertaken for the sheer pleasure of a deeply relaxing indulgence Ayurvedic massage is one of Ancient India’s best-kept secrets.
Over 5,000 years of empirical research has refined Ayurvedic massage into a sublime art, and yet it is still unheard of by many. However, combining skilled knowledge of the body with knowledge of oils, music, and bodywork techniques results in a profound art for balancing the body and mind through the medium of oil massage.
Deeply rejuvenated and with a growing sense of inner wellness, we prepare for our last evening in Rishikesh. This is largely unstructured and depends on what we feel like - be it taking a leisurely stroll through the temples or listening to kirtans (religious songs usually sung in chorus to the accompaniment of different musical instruments) or simply sitting on the river bank, introspecting on self and watching the river making its perpetual journey towards the sea only to return in another form, in another time and in another space.
Dinner followed by retiring to rooms.
After yet another morning session on yoga and mindfulness, we prepare for our drive to Dehradun to catch the morning flight/train to Delhi. Although we drive our way through the same landscape that we had travelled only a few days back, we see a newness everywhere. Perhaps the memories that we are carrying back, the experiences that we went through in this mystical place has made a lasting transformation somewhere in each of us.